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June 30, 2016

Teaching is trending this summer season but the emphasis is on learning more and more, from divergent sources. Gurus and gharanas don't matter much more; neither do banis or boons! Who, except a handful, really even know the difference? Gone are the days when a ward sat at the feet of a master to learn seriously for long - 10/20 years. Today 20 weeks seems like eternity!

Lack of REAL gurus has also led to this situation. What are REAL gurus? First and foremost they are NOT in the market. So, they are free of the money angle. Or ego. Or awards. They are not waiting to teach. Only if they feel convinced the seeker is genuine, capable and serious would they take on a ward. Not like now, come-pay-your-way, learn-abhinaya in a weekend workshop! These gurus also knew EACH and EVERY aspect of dance, not just items. They knew music, they knew literature and they knew shastras. What are shastras? We use words loosely often in India. Shastras are basically four types: Shruti - the recited ones like the Vedas; Smruthi - the remembered ones like the epics Ramayana and the Mahabharata; Shloka - the ritual ones like Tantra and Mantras. Add the Puranas, the rites. 4 r's.

So, how many so-called gurus of today know even one ASPECT or one DEPT. fully or correctly? Not even ten in the whole country, 2 in each form if we are lucky and most of them are about 75, hence last remnants of another era. New gurus, who are basically teachers - acharyas - know only what little they acquired from their gurus and are today palming it off as knowledge or deep art. A case of some better than none?

Most teachers today are relying on ONE aspect of their art. Some know choreography but no technique or music, so they tom-tom on that. Some know literature - oh, those Natyashastra lot! - and they reel off chapter 32 verse 16! Some know only footwork or technique and they make that their mainstay. Then of course, there are those who teach and earn through “learn abhinaya in one week” and focus on left foot forward or right? (since they never danced much practically but can only emote, that too, neck above only because their necks can't be seen due to excess flesh or can't be moved because no one taught them atami!).

All in all a dismal situation?

No. Islands of excellence exist but in remote and small town India. Chetna Jyotishi Beohar is no astrologer, though as the former head of Kathak Kendra in Delhi, she could foresee many a talent's future (or lack of it) and she left it all when her term was curtailed and returned to Chattisgarh, to teach the Khairagarh brand of Kathak, as learnt from gurus Kalyandas Mahant, the court dancer of Raigarh and Pt. Kartikram's son Pt. Ramlal. And Prof. Ashirwadam of Lucknow.

She brings this to Bangalore to teach a group of students of Anjana Gupta, who wish to learn more. So, those who wish to learn more always find a good guru or ways. I ask her what is “tradition” to her when she claims she is teaching traditional Kathak. She replies, “What I learnt from my gurus that I pass on, that is tradition. What I see today and some do is COMPOSED today and that does not actually BELONG to Kathak or suit Kathak much.” Even to know this difference, shows tayari and taleem (training and expertise). “Taal and laya helps a dancer to be in a position of command in a performance, else the dancer is a mere puppet in the hands of a tabla player,” she elaborates. How many even think like that today? One can't, unless one is grounded in art, solidly.

Chetna Jyotishi Beohar teaching

Sujay Shanbhag's students

Sujay Shanbhag is a youth of 20, who is from Mysore and learnt from the respected guru Vasundhara Doraiswamy and now he goes every weekend to Hubli to teach about 12 students there who, otherwise, would never be privy to any dance. Has anyone heard of Hubli outside Karnataka? In all probability, no. Yes, such examples also abound today.

Tushar Bhatt from Bhavnagar made Bangalore home and through his Kathakaar teaches Kathak to many upcoming students. He also makes costumes, does lights and designs shows, in addition to taking photos and recording music and editing DVD films! He does all this and more: Teaches Dandiya for Dusshera Diwali season to some enthusiasts and handles PR for companies. Complete artiste or a multi-tasker?

Neha Muthiyan of Pune brings out a superb 16 paged dance newsletter every alternate month, on basically issues related to the region and also duplicates as a dancer. Nandini Mehta teaches Kathak in a temple in Malleswaram, literally! And presents child dancers through an established festival exclusively for children under 13, called Chinna Kala Nadam. Sampada Pillai moved from Goa to Bangalore few years ago and now has over 100 students in Yelahanka, a suburb of Bangalore. So much Kathak in one south Indian city?!

Orissi is not far behind. The number of young dancers who don't know mythology, history or heritage is amazing. One upcoming Bangalore busybody didn't even know pallavis can be many and knew only Saveri so thought THAT itself was an item! Many are active hosting festivals and fun-filled seminars but few plan content. Exceptions abound. I had first seen Devjani Sen some 7 years ago in Bhubaneswar in Ratikant Mohapatra's class and now one sees him in Bangalore in her “class” teaching her students!

Tushar Bhatt & Pooja Bhatt

Ratikant Mohapatra taking class

We see many such examples in each city or metro. Thus, young India is very busy DOING something. They may not have the means or support or tools or training but what little they have been exposed to and trained in, they are using to full advantage to learn and carry forward.

Thus, what we see is a new trend. Teach. And reach out. USA is calling, Paris is calling, London is also calling. Dancers are flying here, there, everywhere and look like bumblebees, making art. Modern tools like FB and such help reach out, but soon an overdose happens. No one even reads anything anymore much.

In that, give it to Madras still the number one city for sincerity of approach and solidity of art. Whatever is undertaken generally, full attention to detail is vested often. It may be a city and citadel only for one form in dance - Bharatanatyam - but in that most are pucca. 3 generations and more abound and each is doing significant work.

The ones very badly off are really our universities and departments of dance. They are pathetic! Substandard teachers, sycophancy, spurious Ph.Ds (most I read can't write one correct sentence, once mixed with one's!), get them jobs and more spurious Ph.Ds are churned out. Students can't do one margam properly, yet get passed. 90% M.A and 50% Ph.Ds seem to be ghost written by out-of-work dancers and teachers. Getting a degree means a lifelong pension without much tension. I see in many, many universities the appalling condition of dance departments. Pune and Trichy are only two exceptions. And how many dancers of merit or national repute have our universities produced?

This again and also proves Indian dance is personalized, individualized and categorized. It can't be learnt in sterile classrooms of depressing looking colleges and campuses. Not one star-dancer has come out of any university in the last 30 years. First generation, maybe a handful, who mostly became teachers in the same university!

We need a complete overhaul of the dance scene. National awards look like lobbies at work; govt. jobs are fixed matches. Only a handful of artistes benefit from the system and rest of India somehow manages to putter along.

Which is why, young India is an important and resource bank.
And teaching them properly and competently is the first step. Literally.

Ashish Mohan Khokar is a reputed dance historian, biographer, critic and author of many published articles and books on Indian arts and culture. He also teaches Indian dance history and aesthetics for university faculties. He is the curator of the Mohan Khokar Dance Collection and chairs the Dance History Society which hosts an annual convention and dance discourses that afford many talents a platform. He has mentored many and instituted five awards through attendance, the dance yearbook he edits and publishes.

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